Sanaugavut Inuit Art from the Canadian Arctic
National Museum, New Delhi
Inuit Nunangat - the Inuit homeland in Canada - is a glorious expanse of taiga and tundra, polar ice and permafrost that has been inhabited by Inuit and ancestral peoples for more than 4000 years. Since the mid-twentieth century, Inuit artists have established a powerful art movement that tells a compelling story of artistic invention and cultural continuity. Featuring masterworks from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, the exhibition Sanaugavut, meaning "our works of art" in Inuktitut, focuses on the emer¬gence of this most recent stage of creative expression and features sculptures, prints, drawings, textile art, and video that highlight the significant themes of Inuit art - traditional social life and customs, spiritual beliefs and mythology, historical moments and personal experiences - in a richly diverse range of artistic media and styles.
Some of the earliest arts and crafts centres were established in the Nunavik region and many of the classic early themes - iconic figures of hunters, or mother and child - originate here. Depictions of wildlife are based on close observation of the natural world. Artists in these communities have an interest in narration and, with a degree of vivid realism, choose to illustrate an episode of a legend or explain how to perform traditional skills, thus offering a glimpse of the reality of everyday life.
Art from the Qikiqtaaluk region is often characterized by the lyrical humour and flamboyance its creators have brought to their subjects. The green serpentinite stones found in local quarries are the preferred carving material for many artists because its hardness allows for dynamic arrangements, while the polished surface enhances the natural beauty of the stone. In both sculpture and works on paper, subject matter and naturalism is important yet is married to a desire to create elegant and challenging compositions.
In the Kivalliq region, artists have a minimalist approach that intuitively follows the natural shape of the dense local stone. Forms are simple and bold. With a focus on figurative abstraction, the works communicate the importance of family and community in Inuit society, yet possess a timeless quality that relays universal concepts of humanity.
Kitikmeot artists are also inspired by their principle carving material - whale bone - and their works reflect the traditional animistic world view in an expressionistic or even surreal style. Often dynamic or even grotesque, their sculptures capture the power of shamans and the mystery of the spirit world. Farther west, the culture of the Inuvialuit Inuit is unique within Canada. Artists have used their art to record their distinctive legends, customs and history The vibrantly coloured prints from Ulukhaktok have made the region famous.
Contemporary artists perform a balancing act in their art, exploring new media and current concerns while maintaining traditions. Regional schools may still be distinguished, yet communication between artists and their growing interaction with the southern Canadian and international art world has led to broader interests. Some artists explore new materials such as silver and non- traditional subjects such as a skier's torso. Many continue to use their art to affirm the relevance and value of their culture in the modern world.